How does the United States value its teachers? It pays them, on average, less than 60 percent of the salaries of similarly educated professionals, according to a newly released 456-page annual report on education around the world.
The 2017 Education at a Glance report, issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, looks at education data in its 35 member countries — including the United States, Canada, Chile, Australia and many of the Western European countries — as well as in some partner countries, such as the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia.
The good news: The report finds that since 2000, the overall workforce in these countries has become better educated. At the turn of the millennium, the majority of young adults had reached high school as their highest education level, but today the largest share of those ages 25 to 34 have a college degree. In the United States, it said, 46 percent of people in that same age group are college-educated. That’s the largest percentage in the OECD, although the gap has been shrinking; in 2000, the gap was 12 percentage points but it shrunk to 4 percent in 2016 as other countries began to catch up.
The study notes that “teachers are the backbone of the education system,” but that their salaries have decreased on average in OECD countries, making the profession “increasingly unattractive to young students.” The economic crisis of 2007-08 affected teacher pay, the report said; between 2005 and 2015, salaries of teachers decreased in real terms in one-third of the countries with available data.
In the United States, the report said, starting teachers earn more than in the other included countries — about $42,500 in elementary school compared with the OECD average of $31,000. But American teachers earn on average only up to nearly 60 percent than other professionals with similar education levels, “the lowest relative earnings across all OECD countries with data,” it said.
Teachers’ actual salaries (including bonuses and allowances) remain below the average salaries of similarly educated full-time, full-year workers. Depending on the level of education taught, teachers’ salaries are between 55% and 59% of the average salaries of similarly educated workers in the United States. For lower secondary [middle school] teachers, the figure is 58%, the second lowest among all OECD countries with available data, after the Czech Republic.
And American teachers work longer hours than counterparts in other researched countries, it said. Middle-school teachers are required to work 1,366 hours per year at school — which doesn’t include the time they spend outside of school on their work — compared with the OECD average of 1,135 hours, and their net teaching time amounts to 981 hours compared with the OECD average of 712 hours.
Although U.S. teachers get salary bumps as they age, those increases lessen. Salaries at the top of the scale for middle-school teachers is $67,542, only about $5,000 more than after 15 years of experience, it said. This may make retaining teachers more difficult, the report said, adding that “efforts must be made not only to recruit and select, but also to retain the most competent and qualified teachers.”
Overall in OECD countries, the most popular college degrees are in business, administration or law, but interest in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — grows with higher levels of education; there was almost double the share of students earning doctorates in these subjects than at the bachelor’s level in 2015, the latest year for which there is data.
And the reports said that adults with a college degree earn 56 percent more on average than those with only high school degrees.
Across OECD countries, women make up 7 out of 10 teachers; in pre-primary grades, 97 percent of the teachers are women.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, issued a statement about the report saying that the OECD had “reconfirmed the shameful truth” that American teachers earn much less than other professionals, but work longer hours and teach more children than their international peers.
“If you look under the hood, it becomes clear the United States is spending less on recruiting, supporting, nurturing and retaining teachers,” she said. “And recent cuts have only made things worse — the U.S. has slashed per-pupil spending by 4 percent, while OECD countries have increased it by an average of 5 percent. “While the rest of the world has prioritized teaching and learning, and is investing heavily in equity and teacher preparation, 36 U.S. states are spending less on education than before the Great Recession. Moreover, the report confirms the U.S. has fallen woefully behind in early childhood and career and technical education as well.”
(Correction: An earlier version said teachers are paid up to 60 less than other professionals. The report says that teachers on average are paid less than 60 percent of the salaries of other professionals.